Truth in Experience Part I

Tre Nowaczynski
March 23, 2016

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 22:50

Trans Mediterranean Ferry off the Coast of Barcelona

              As with every new blog post, I am amazed by the level of growth that I experience, always accompanied by new experiences and opportunities. While positive and negative events are inevitable, the most important thing that I’ve learned is to learn from each unique event. This blog, as well as my own personal journal, has served me well in capturing the mental aspect of the study experience. While most of my posts have referred to my personal development rather abstractly, I will draw on tangible events to describe some of my semester abroad. Contextualizing the growth in stages event by event is something that has eluded even the pages of my journal, but hopefully this particular post will do a better job at chronologizing a bit of my movements abroad in clearer detail.

              Over the past week and pesatas, I have gone from mid-terms to full blown vacation mode, both stressful in their own ways. Admittedly, the studying portion of this semester hasn’t felt like school at all. Every day I find myself excited to perfect my Spanish skills in the classroom, learn how to move like a traditional Flamenco dancer, discover my own artistic abilities in my water color class, and explore “hard science” topics in Mediterranean Ecosystems as a change of pace from my sociology courses at Macalester (yes, this means that I am not always excited to learn in the US). With that being said however, these classes have allowed me to escape the traditional classroom setting and delve into the rich cultural, historical, and geological dimensions of my setting. As a result, school has blown by with minimal stress and worry, disoriented by the labyrinth of discovery that I am engulfed in (I will actually start taking about events and stuff now, sorry).

              Although I have compared aspects of life in the United States to my life in Spain, I have never truly considered the concept of American culture vs. Spanish culture until I made friends with one of my classmates at UGR. Sporting a Chicago Blackhawks jersey my classmate revealed to me that he had an affliction to American rap and hip-hop. Upon learning that I am from a city near Chicago, we slipped into a discussion of 90’s rappers, a conversation I truly thought I would never be having this far away from home. He invited me over to his apartment where we exchanged songs by Gang Starr, Nas, Wu Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest and Kriss Kross. And while he couldn’t interpret the lyrics, he could certainly rap them word for word. At this, we were able to discuss some of the key structural elements of the music, particularly why young black men in urban settings were the ones were artfully projecting their lived experiences in this manner. Although it is something that I am familiar with, it was incredibly difficult to describe the typical experience of a black American male in Spanish. It allowed me to reflect on the topic in new ways, attempting to describe systems of inequality that have perpetually spawned high rates of incarceration, poor communities, and limited educational opportunities without the historical context of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights movement to fall back on. We continued to share music and he even showed me an impressive collection of NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB jerseys that could rival nearly every American’s except for my Dad’s (No seriously, he had a Sheldon Brown Eagle’s jersey). It was a blast, sharing something that I love with somebody so intrigued by the intricacies of a topic that they previously only appreciated on an aesthetic level. What was unexpected however was how everything that I said was regarded as truth because I was a “real black man from a city like Chicago.” While this was intended as a compliment, I am aware of how that perception of me, from a stranger’s perspective, may shape how they approach and interact with me in abroad. My blackness means something different here, and while I have certainly been able to recognize that, I will continue to discover exactly how that affects my social status and experiences abroad.

              The more exciting and more stressful side of this break has been my Semana Santa trip, which is still in progress (sailing across the Mediterranean as we speak). For the first half of the trip I intended to spend four days in Barcelona, the Northeastern coastal city of Catalonia. To start, I must say that while Barcelona and Granada are very different structurally, socially, and aesthetically, Barcelona was incredibly special in its own way. A literal grid, this massive city spans on for miles in every direction, leaving me in awe on street corners as I stared into the abyss of linear pavement rolled out in every direction, in direct opposition to the mountainous region that Granada inhabits. With so many people bustling in and out of the city, my experience in Barcelona was a unique blend of Spanish history, spotted by international interactions with the individuals I was lucky enough to meet in my hostel (I would give this hostel a 10/10, let me know if you are interested). I fell in love with Gaudi’s geometrical wonders of architecture exemplified most properly in the unfinished Sagrada Familia. What a legacy to leave behind, 100 years after your death, a cathedral that will be in construction until approximately 2026. A humbling experience between the abstract pillars and walls of this building highlighted my time here which was otherwise spent exploring the streets, restaurants, bars, clubs, and beach until our “pies” were blistered. What fascinated me most and ultimately dominated our conversations was the integration of migrants from all over the world into the DNA of the city. Groups of migrants worked collaboratively as street vendors on sidewalks, on the beach, and in shops to sell you literally everything you need. While a similar network of migrant vendors exists in Granada, this web was much more expansive, in accordance with the increase in population. Still, I am left with questions of legality, native perception, and immediate economic effect that this type of work must have on the city.

              (Now for the show). I panicked on two separate occasions in Barcelona this week. The first, a financial shock as I was unprepared by the higher costs of living in the city. As I had improperly budgeted for similar expenses to Granada I seemed to forget that I would be spending more money than normal because I was and am on vacation. The second and rather embarrassing panic was a little bit more justified (we’re all friends here by this point). I missed my flight to Mallorca this morning. What was even more frustrating is that I wasn’t inebriated or anything of that nature. I had my bags packed, my boarding pass ready, I knew the time tables for the bus upon landing, and I merely slept through my alarm. THINGS TO NOT DO (that I did) WHEN YOU PANIC/MISS A FLIGHT ABROAD: Walking up to the warmth of the sun I was immediately sent into a state of adrenaline as I had intended to wake up at 4:45 AM to meet my ride at 5:45 (Barcelona is HUGE yo). Knowing that I had already missed my flight I spiraled into disaster mode scrambling to figure out how I could possibly make up for my mistake and still adhere to the itinerary I had prepared for. Of course, as flights are expensive, I immediately searched for a new and equally cheap flight to take on the same day. News flash, that doesn’t exist. But instead of logically evaluating my situation I impulsively purchased a ticket to compensate for my loss. What I didn’t realize was that this purchase was for the next day and put a substantial dent in my budget for the trip (you have to understand, I actually sent my Mom a text telling her that I would have to come back to the US because I was too stressed). However, as Mom’s do, she was able to talk me down from my ledge and invoke reason into my irrational thought patterns. Ultimately no pasa nada prevailed once again, canceling my impulsive flight and landing me on a much cheaper and relaxing midnight ferry ride from Barcelona to Palma, Mallorca (seriously incredible. There are restaurants, a Bazar, no baggage restrictions, beds, and decks with 360 degree views of the sea. Bless up). Long story short, take a deep breath when you feel the panic ensuing (Or just call your Mom if you’re lucky enough to have one like mine).


For me: Having the opportunity to travel the world and learn about myself along the way.

For you: This incredibly long post is over and you probably had a good laugh at my expense.


I think we already know the answer to this one…

Moving Forward:

Travel woes are to be expected, especially when you are traveling internationally by yourself for the first time. It is all just a part of an incredible experience in which you can learn from and thus grow. Don’t take any moments for granted and improve yourself daily through the positive and negative. 

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Tre Nowaczynski

<p>A sociology major at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At school I am a two-sport varsity athlete, sing and beat box in an a cappella group on campus and volunteer in the Twin Cities area. In the future I hope to develop and create safer and more integrated communities, creating equal opportunities in urban centers across the US. Specifically I seek to work against structural racism by reducing disparities that are current outcomes of our social systems. This study abroad experience is a time to reflect and immerse myself in an entirely different world beginning first and foremost with a language barrier. I hope to be successful academically and socially as well as learn a lot about myself and the world around me.</p>

2016 Spring
Home University:
Macalester College
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